Sunday School saved me
When I was a teenager, my mother passed on and my father remarried. Adjusting to this was very difficult for me, and I descended into depression. The problem was not diagnosed, as it rarely was in those days, but I struggled with a great sadness that led to reckless behavior.
Living in a large cosmopolitan city, I found many opportunities to put myself in harm’s way. Nights often found me wandering alone, and it was easy to get lost in the city and meet people who would take advantage of a lonely girl. I frequently engaged in conversation with strangers and allowed myself to be taken to locations that were secluded and unsafe. More often than I care to recall, I put myself in dangerous situations, basically asking, waiting, for something to happen.
Only recently have I realized, with deep gratitude, how remarkable it is that I never met with violence during those wilderness years or fell victim to any unsavory behavior. Neither was I lured into the common pitfalls of drinking, smoking, or doing drugs. I credit Christian Science for this protection, because during this period I was attending a Christian Science Sunday School.
I loved the concept of God as both Father and Mother, from whom I could never be separated.
My attendance was sporadic, but every time I went, I was always warmly welcomed. And even though my participation in class and at Wednesday testimony meetings was only on the level of listening, I never felt a whisper of disapproval.
Looking back on my first experience of the Sunday School some years earlier, I remember seeing the words in golden letters high on the wall, “God is Love.” These words were simple and immediate, and I could grasp them. Thus began a growing understanding of God as divine Love and of my own identity as a spiritual idea of Love. The God I was learning about was not wrathful or punishing, but tender and caring.
In Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy, seven synonyms are employed for God—Principle, Life, Truth, Love, Soul, Spirit, Mind. These helped bring God’s true nature into focus for me. And a new understanding of man—of myself and of everyone—as God’s perfect reflection gave me hope. This was not a view of man as a condemned sinner, but as the pure and innocent child of God. I also loved the concept of God as both Father and Mother, from whom I could never be separated. This made me feel closer to God.
I didn’t grasp much of Science and Health at first, but when I found sentences that spoke to me, I clung to them. For example, “In Science man is the offspring of Spirit” (p. 63 ) and “To those leaning on the sustaining infinite, to-day is big with blessings” (p. vii ). However tenuous my grasp of Christian Science seemed at that point, it was an anchor for hope, a possible way out of the disarray and fear I felt.
I remember borrowing a record of Mrs. Eddy’s hymn “ ‘Feed My Sheep’ ” from the Sunday School library and listening to it over and over. The third verse especially spoke to my craving for tenderness and protection:
So, when day grows dark and cold,
Tear or triumph harms,
Lead Thy lambkins to the fold,
Take them in Thine arms;
Feed the hungry, heal the heart,
Till the morning’s beam;
White as wool, ere they depart,
Shepherd, wash them clean.
(Christian Science Hymnal, No. 304 )
As a young girl I loved animals, and the imagery in the poem spoke powerfully to me. I was learning that I was being gently cared for, always, in all ways. I also began to experience healings.
One thing that happened during the year after I started Sunday School was that my grades in high school improved dramatically. I became a more engaged learner and won a year-end book prize for having an A average in ninth grade. I was beginning to identify myself with the one divine Mind and learning to demonstrate Mind’s infinite intelligence. As Mrs. Eddy wrote in Science and Health, “A knowledge of the Science of being develops the latent abilities and possibilities of man” (p. 128 ).
The vice principal of my high school was a member of the branch Church of Christ, Scientist, where I attended Sunday School, and at times she took me under her wing. Once when I felt unwell and asked to leave school early, she invited me into her office to sit and read hymns. After a short time of hymn reading, the discomfort left and I was able to return to class.
With continued prayer and growth in Christian Science, the relentless despair gradually lost its grip on me, and my careless behavior stopped as well. A few years later I moved out of the family home, and though still in my teens with only a high school education, I was able to house, clothe, and feed myself, and to be safe.
When I think of those wandering years now, I’m reminded of Psalm 139: “Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me” (verses 7–10 ).
Christian Science teaches that we can expect God’s promises to be fulfilled, and that we are so loved, so valued, and so watched over. Even a rudimentary understanding of this Science confers protection. God’s mercy is that rich.
Mrs. Eddy recognized the deep need of youth for basic instruction in Christian Science, and she wisely established the Sunday School for students up to the age of twenty. In Christian Science churches and societies all over the world, Sunday School teachers do their selfless, prayer-based work. Even the most reticent student is supported and nurtured in the redeeming, protecting love of Love, no matter where he or she happens to be. What a resource for young people!